Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2017

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Environmentalists, developers dig in for debate

OPTION 1 (5,298 acres)

Encompasses all 438 known paleontological sites, the cultural sites, the entire 980-acre Tule Springs National Register of Historic Places and most of the occupied habitat for Las Vegas bearpoppy and buckwheat. Recreation and public purpose leases could be issued on a case-by-case basis.

OPTION 2 (13,467 acres)

Focuses on preservation over use. Includes wedges of land north of the 5,298 acres to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge boundary. Includes a one-mile boundary north and east of the Las Vegas Paiute Reservation, as well as the 300-acre North Las Vegas Preserve south of Grand Teton. Minimal to no land use authorizations or infrastructure would be issued unless beneficial to the goals of preservation.

OPTION 3 (9,472 acres)

Incorporates a portion of the creosote bajada as a buffer to future development but takes into account future development to the north that would require infrastructure. Minimal to no land use would be allowed on the east side of the preserve between Decatur Boulevard and North 5th Street or within a one-mile radius north of the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Reservation and a one-half mile radius east of the reservation. This portion of the Upper Las Vegas Wash would remain undeveloped, but other land use authorizations outside of the restricted development areas may be allowed. Includes the North Las Vegas Preserve.

OPTION 4 (6,367 acres)

Incorporates a smaller buffer around the Upper Las Vegas Wash than the third option. Minimal to no land use authorizations would be allowed on the east side of the preserve between Decatur Boulevard and North 5th Street. Other land uses may be allowed outside of the restricted development areas.

OPTION 5 (3,307 acres)

Offers more of a recreational parkway to the urban user. It could include leases for parking lots, restrooms, tennis courts and other standard urban park features. The preserve on either side of the leases would be confined to the actual 100-year flood channel. Also removed is a 500-foot strip along Moccasin Road, south of the Clark County Shooting Range. East of Decatur Boulevard, the boundary is slightly reduced from the 5,298-acre option, particularly at the northern boundary of the Tule Spring National Register of Historic Places. The preserve would be divided into a west and east portion, with a large section in the middle removed. Numerous land use authorizations as proposed by North Las Vegas and Las Vegas' master plans could be allowed.

Source: Bureau of Land Management.

NOTE: All lands could be owned and managed by the BLM. Another alternative provides that lands within the preserve could be transferred to other entities for management. The possible managers under that scenario include Clark County, The Nature Conservancy, the state or Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.

Those are the most extreme of the five alternatives drafted by the Bureau of Land Management as ways to protect rare plants and prehistoric fossils along the Upper Las Vegas Wash.

Lining up to back the least amount of land preservation are local governments and developers who stand to cash in on the land, while environmentalists are arguing for preservation of the greatest amount of land.

The BLM appeared to be trying to split the baby, Solomon style, when it removed 5,298 acres from any future auctions of federal land. But developers complained that was too much and environmentalists said it wasn't enough.

The Sierra Club believes the BLM is already selling the community short with its plan for a Nov. 16 auction of about 2,000 acres south of the proposed 5,298-acre conservation area.

In conjunction with the 2,000-acre sale, the BLM is setting aside 281 acres for conservation, but the Sierra Club wanted at least 700 acres to protect plants and fossils.

So environmentalists figure they are in for another uphill battle with the larger preservation dispute but say it is critical if the valley is to protect its rare plants -- the Las Vegas bearpoppy and buckwheat -- as well as prehistoric fossils along the Upper Las Vegas Wash.

Before the BLM decides how many thousands more acres will be preserved, the agency must study the potential impacts of each of the five alternatives on not just plants and paleontological sites, but also on wildlife, soil, air and water. That report is not expected to be completed until the end of November at the earliest.

The public can submit comments and opinions regarding the five draft alternatives through Oct. 18.

After the BLM's study of the potential impact of the various alternatives is completed, the public will have another 45 days to comment on the results of that study.

There are two ways to be heard:

Gayle Marrs-Smith, CTA Project Manager Bureau of Land Management

4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive

Las Vegas, NV 89130

"We just want to make sure there is a good balance between the preservation and the ability to develop as a city," Mike Majewski, North Las Vegas' economic development director, said.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, want to preserve lands north of the proposed 5,298-acre conservation area to connect it all to the Desert National Wildlife Range.

Jane Feldman, the conservation chairwoman of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said allowing the area to be bisected with roads, utilities and park features would endanger the preservation.

"We would be very upset because that would allow maximum development without protecting the resources," Feldman said.

The 13,467-acre preservation plan backed by the Sierra Club and other environmentalists includes a one-mile boundary around the north and east sides of the Las Vegas Paiute Reservation. Minimal to no land use, streets and utilities would be authorized in the conservation zone.

The two other alternatives under consideration include 9,472 acres and 6,367 acres -- well above what the cities are seeking.

The BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have the final say on the boundaries.

Brian Wargo covers suburban government for the Sun. He can be reached at (702) 259-4011 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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